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Oldies That Give Thanks

Thanksgiving music and oldies that show their gratitude

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The following 11 oldies, all featuring variations on the word "thanks," made the Billboard Top 40 charts between 1955 and 1979. Though they're not all traditional expressions of thanks, and declare their gratitude for some wildly different subjects, they all struck a chord with at least some listeners who could, apparently, relate.

11. "I Wanna Thank You," Bobby Rydell

Teen idol Rydell hasn't gotten much respect from rock historians, despite (or maybe because of) the hits "Wild One" and "Volare." And no amount of screaming teenage fanlove could have ever compensated for dreck like this: even with the then-novel lyrical hook (thanks for dumping me, baby, because now I've found someone even better), this inexplicable hit just lies there, bereft of a shred of ingenuity or passion. Unless you count shamelessly ripping "Don't You Just Know It" by Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns for the chorus.

10. "Thank God It's Friday," Love And Kisses

The careers of Donna Summer, Jeff Goldblum, and Berlin's Terri Nunn somehow miraculously not only survived but thrived after 1978's supposed comedy film Thank God It's Friday, which is often considered the first chink in disco's mirror-plated armor, but studio group Love and Kisses weren't so lucky. And it's easy to see why, since this listless number plays exactly like a rewritten medley of other, earlier, much hotter disco hits. The fact that it ruled the dance charts for six weeks anyway proves that you could slap a disco beat on anything and sell it. But that was about to end, and formula songs like this are the reason why.

9. "Thank You Girl," The Beatles

Not one of the Beatles' better early cuts, this b-side was slated for the a-side of the Fabs' third UK single -- that is, until John and Paul came up with "From Me To You." But as a love letter to the fans, mostly teenage girls, who had created Beatlemania just a few months earlier, this does the job. "I could tell the world a thing or two about love," John sings, but he doesn't, really: the sentiment here is shapeless enough to make you glad the lads decided to focus on their songwriting first and their fanbase second.

8. "Thank You Pretty Baby," Brook Benton

Done in the signature early-60s Benton sound of "Kiddio" and "The Boll Weevil Song," this uptempo ballad is smooth, sweet, and string-laden. It's also about as deep as its title, however ("I'm gonna kiss you in the morning and kiss you in the evening, too / I'm gonna spend my life loving no one but you"), which may be why it charted no higher than #16. Or maybe -- having already hit the Top 10 twice in one year -- it was just a matter of time. (Sorry.)

7. "Thanks For Saving My Life," Billy Paul

Most folks remember Billy only from his anguished 1972 ballad about infidelity, "Me And Mrs. Jones." This, Paul's other Top 40 hit, may have stalled out at #37 because the sentiment was a near-total 180-degree-turn from the hit, with lines like "I'm so glad I ran into you / If I hadn't seen you I would have been through." (Unless this is Mrs. Jones who saved his life, in which case, he has a real problem.) It certainly couldn't have been that wonderful laid-back Philly-soul-laden funk in the background. Although Billy himself is so smooth he's barely there.

6. "Thank You For Being A Friend," Andrew Gold

Now recognized mainly as the theme song from NBC's 80s sitcom The Golden Girls, this late-70s hit by veteran songwriter and LA studio mainstay Gold (that's him playing the scorching lead guitar on Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good") struck just the right note of filial warmth, pledging to keep thanking said friend through old age, death, and even afterwards. Now that's devotion! Small wonder this song is so popular in radio dedications; it was, in fact, Casey Kasem's last long-distance dedication on American Top 40.

5. "Thank The Lord For The Night Time," Neil Diamond

No one would ever mistake The Jewish Elvis for a soul man. But he does have soul, and that means a love for gospel, not just as an expression or a cultural event but as a musical style. Ol' Neil reeled off tons of little folk-rock masses like this one during his heady tenure at the Bang label in the late 60s, and like any good soul song, this one uses religious style to praise secular things. In this case, "the night time," and, more pointedly, "you."

4. "Thank God I'm A Country Boy," John Denver

Denver's classic country hoedown, recorded live at a Los Angeles gig in 1975, is the first entry on this list to really exude joy in its thankfulness, but despite the G-word, what John is celebrating is not spiritual. Lyrically, this is a simple ode to the simple life. Which was not unusual for John: "Well, I wouldn't trade my life for diamonds or jewels / I never was one of them money hungry fools." And although he didn't write those words, Denver's enthusiastic cover was so infectious it rocketed to #1 pop and country in what was a very urban chart atmsophere.

3. "I Thank You," Sam and Dave

A groove so sinuous and and sentiment so adult ZZ Top later took it back to the Top 40, this Sam and Dave scorcher is a real classic of Stax soul, which naturally also makes it heavy on the spiritual-style testifyin'. But that also means they're not thanking God: "Now I know what the fellas are talking about / When they say that they been turned out." And like many soul classics of the era, the loving in question is so good it's almost physically dangerous. How else to read a line like "You got me trying new things too / Just so I can keep up with you"?

2. "Be Thankful For What You've Got," William DeVaughan

R&B's most famous liturgy of thanks is short on words, but makes its point through repetition,, not to mention a silky, multilayered groove that's the very definition of thoughtful: the wide open space between DeVaughan's takes on What Really Matter leave plenty of room for the listener to ruminate. In an era just beginning to be defined by garish blaxploitation consumption, this song dares to declare, "You may not have a car at all. But remember, brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall."

1. "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," Sly and the Family Stone

The smash that created funk-rock is also one of the most notorious backhanded compliments in pop history: as Sly prepares to leave New York for Los Angeles (and, though he didn't know it yet, drugs, disillusionment, and dissipation), he offers a sardonic thank you to the industry vets who bucked him at every turn, as well as pop in general. "Thank you for the party," the Family yowls. "But I could never stay... Dying young is hard to take. Selling out is harder." Then the mastermind finishes making his point by listing all his hits. Almost as if he were giving them back.
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